First Ascent of the Tower of the Winds
A tribute to Earth River’s good friend and caretaker at the Cave Camp, Checho Berrera (1964 - 2002)
by Eric Hertz
Late one April after the rafting season, I was at Cave Camp building a trail around Laguito Azul to Lost Beach with the caretaker of the camp, Checho Berrera. The camp got its name from the massive rock shelter on the property. At one time the Puehenche Indians lived in this natural stone house which had a natural fireplace and was large enough to ride a horse inside.
My company, Earth River Expeditions, had been using the Camp for three seasons and yet the top of a 300 foot granite monolith that rose straight out of Laguito Azul and could be seen from everywhere in the camp remained a mystery.
Stoping to rest, I looked over at the granite tower, my eyes tracing the sheer, unbroken 300 foot north wall to the top. I turned to Checho and asked if he had any idea what was up there. We communicated in a cross between Spanglish and sign language, yet each of us knew what the other was saying.
Many times I had wondered about the mysterious tower but the foreboding walls guarding the top had always seemed insurmountable. Checho gave me an odd sort of look as if to say, why would anyone in his right mind care. After all, you couldn't graze cows or sheep up there and it certainly wasn't worth breaking your neck to find out.
Things had remained pretty much unchanged at his Casa Piedra farm for the four generations Checho's family had homesteaded it. He was born in the primitive turn of the century farmhouse his great grandfather had built on the plateau overlooking the river about a mile from Zeta Rapid. Cut off from the outside world, they lived off the land without electricity, running water or plumbing. Checho's children, starting at age six, rode three hours by horse, in all weather conditions, to reach the nearest public boarding school where they lived for a week, returning home on weekends.
Nothing much had changed at Campo Casa Piedra until the first time Checho saw a strange yellow raft float by. In the ensuing years, we had purchased the property around Zeta Rapid including the strange tower for our wilderness camp and Checho became the caretaker. He took tremendous pride in his work as the camp's handyman, builder and guardian. He was a gracious host with a wonderful smile that filled the camp and everyone who met him liked him. When a new group arrived they would often ask,
“Whose the guy running around with all the sleeping bags and pads?”
The river guide's would say,
"Oh that's Checho, he takes care of everything around here."
My relationship with Checho grew as we spent many cold, wet days in the rainy season designing cliff dwellings for sleeping, setting up hot tubs in the natural pot holes carved into the rocks around Zeta Rapid and building trails while exploring every nook and cranny of the expansive property looking for things river guests would enjoy seeing or doing. Every nook and cranny with the exception of the top of the mysterious tower which was never far from my mind and the furthest from Checho's.
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